Step-by-step Guide: And it only takes a few minutes every day!
Today, I started feeling truly comfortable with my day-to-day life of crippling unemployment and financial anxiety, because now I have a clear mission set ahead of myself.
I recorded a long script, exercised for the fun of it for the first time in 4 years, updated my online presence, am writing this article, and will be beginning a 6-month plan for churning out the first draft of a fiction novel I’ve been contemplating for ages.
All in one day.
That’s 5 new(ish) things in my life, and I’m pulling them off with plenty of time to spare. With this tool, I’m able to get a lot more done every day because my time is finally being managed properly.
Heck, I can even watch some Netflix before bed!
The secret to my success can only be attributed to a determined mind, lots of caffeine, and the help of the latest trend in scheduling:
The Bullet Journal
Don’t roll your eyes. Stop it—stop it right there. I know what you’re thinking.
“Oh great, again with these dots. It’s not that brilliant of an invention. All of the kids are obsessed with these dumb little journals.” Yeah, I used to think that too. I didn’t think taking away the lines in a notebook would improve my productivity in a long shot. At first, I thought the fad would wear off just like a particularly awful internet meme that should’ve never happened (looking at you, dat boi).
But when the alternative was wasting away half my day playing video games and forgetting to do most of the things on my to-do list (despite having daily phone reminders), I decided I needed a change.
So I gave the bullet journal a shot, and what do you know, it was a miracle!
Since beginning my journaling, I have a clear goal in mind every day:
- When I plan too much, I note it down.
- If I don’t do enough, I note it down.
- When a goal is too ambiguous and I find myself sliding back towards social media, I note it down.
- When I spend too much time on distractions, I note it down.
- When I get too stressed, I note it down.
- When the week is over, I reflect on what I noted down, gather my thoughts together, and note those down too.
I’ve noted down anything I need to do to improve my daily life. So far, I’ve been able to solve all of the above problems, do more with my days, and still feel energized and relaxed by the end—thanks to one simple book.
I carry it with me around the house. Bedroom—office—living room—kitchen. I haven’t taken it to the bathroom yet, but I know that’s inevitably fated to happen.
The goal of the bullet journal, as I’ve understood, is it’s unique to everyone. For some it’s a daily planner, for others it’s a great way to plot stories, take notes in class, or even let loose with some creativity. The bullet journal is whatever you want it to be. However, it’s important that you identify its purpose up front, because a notebook without a purpose is nothing more than a collection of blank pages.
Let me break down what I do in this bullet journal—and please don’t mock my messy writing or questionable styles, I’m still trying to find what works best!
- A Brief Glance at the Month
- Week 1 Goals
- “Tomorrow I Want To:”
- Daily Planning of the Week
- “How Was Your Week?”
- Repeat 2–5 for the rest of the month
A Brief Glance at the Month
This is my debut page. The key to an organized life is an organized plan, so I create a day-by-day plan of all important events coming up to get a good idea of what’s to come.
Preemptively, I assign each week a colour, so I can keep track of where I am throughout the month. From there, I fill in all of the important dates I know aren’t about to change anytime soon. Whenever something new comes up, I simply add it in, so I have my month at-a-glance.
Then, on the right, I plan the goals I want to complete by the end of each week, forcing myself to think long-term, and decide what projects are most important. I stay reasonable and a little vague to allow for some flexibility.
Before bed, I cross out the current day, so I can keep things in perspective and don’t lose sight of my long-term goals.
Week 1 Goals
Now that I know what I wanted to accomplish each week, I began to plan in more detail—what I want to do, then assigning a day for each item. I even add a couple quotes to motivate me to keep pushing forward.
This is all good fun—I map out the week in a grid, and fill in deadlines or days I wanted to achieve each goal.
Now, I have a habit of planning too much and overworking myself—many of my side projects get lost or forgotten. To avoid this, I colour-code the success rate of each planned goal, so I can see my progress throughout the week.
As you can see… I didn’t get a whole lot done. Particularly the gym, which I am ashamed of. Planning isn’t easy, and just starting into productivity in Week 1 is a lot to ask of myself.
But I didn’t want to give myself any excuses, either. So that’s where the final page comes in.
“Tomorrow I Want To:”
Before we skip ahead to the final page though, I want to address my daily planning. So far in this journal, I’ve been planning weekly goals and when I want them to happen, but I haven’t actually planned what aspect of the goals I want to address each day.
So in the “Tomorrow I Want To:” section, I list out the things I want to do the next day. These can include breakdowns of tasks like “add pictures to article”. Other times it can be random little fun events, like sushi or buying concert tickets—little tasks I’ll be doing immediately.
I only fill these in one day in advance, so this list was slowly created over time.
If I succeed, I drive an X through the goal, but if I didn’t do it, I circle it with a big fat O. This helps differentiate what needs to get done.
I find this method is very helpful with getting all the nitty gritty tasks of life completed and out of the way.
Daily Planning of the Week
This is where I assign time slots to everything I want to do. Given that I’ve planned out how much I want done by the end of the week on previous pages, I can estimate an appropriate amount of time to give per activity.
I start out by planning the essentials—meals, showering, just relaxing, and planning my bedtime, which I try to keep consistent every day now.
I use colour-coding to differentiate the goals from each other with the legend at the top. This way, if I happen to not get an Urgent task done in the allotted time, I can always take time out of the Personal slot. I plan for events ahead of time, and the rest of the daily events the night before.
As you can see, I didn’t plan out all my days ahead of time, and of course, those days I didn’t get anything productive done.
I found when I did plan, I completed all my daily goals.
“How Was Your Week?”
The most important aspect of self-improvement is being honest with yourself. That’s why I included a page at the end of the week to look back and reflect on what worked and what didn’t with my plans. I made some harsh observations, came up with some clear, actionable solutions, and gave myself some tough reminders of what needed to start happening.
By writing it all out, I’m holding myself accountable.
The easiest way to see what worked and what didn’t, was to look at my success-rate grid on the “Week 1 Goals” page, and compare the numbers.
Right away I noticed my success/failure ratio was far lower than I anticipated, and so extrapolated some base-level conclusions from that data.
Then I listed out how to change those points in the future: plan less, plan more specifically, and be okay with not packing a bunch of tasks into one day.
Other observations I made were serious notes to get me out of the “lazy college student” frame of mind. I found by admitting my faults, I felt comfortable trying to improve them.
It’s been a week and a half since I began this journal, and although last week was slow, this one has already been far more productive than the last.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, I’m now accomplishing 5 important tasks in 1 day. This didn’t happen overnight—I had to find a method that worked with my personality—I had to figure out how I thought and what motivated me. From there, I could truly get sh*t done.
I find there’s one major difference that the bullet journal brings to the table than most other journals. I have fun making my schedules.
Every new page is enjoyable to make, and I love creating these new ways to stay organized. I’ve created my own unique system with the amount of space I need to plan, and it’s working great for me now.
If you want to buy yourself a bullet journal and the corresponding pens, head down to any Chapters/Indigo/Coles bookstore in your area (or Barnes and Noble for my American friends). Prepare to spend around $30 for the collection—it’s not the cheapest, but it’ll make you treat it with extra care and value.
And please, hit that recommend button if this was useful for you! I will most likely provide an update after a couple months go by—so stay tuned and follow me as well!
Thank you all very much for reading.
– Austin Fisher